I can’t deny that today has been a surreal experience. Months of online research made names like ‘Moria’, ‘Pipka’ and ‘Captain’s Table’ sound familiar, even though I have never set foot in Greece, let alone any of its islands.
So as soon as we arrived on the island of LesVos we followed the advice laid out to new volunteers and set off to spend a couple of days working in one of the warehouses, to help sort out donations. But the map that we had was not so helpful, or maybe it was just user error, but either way after about 20 mins navigating Greek pot holes we rounded a corner that brought us unexpectedly face to face with the epicentre of a most unfamiliar place, locally known as Afghan Hill.
Amidst a large clump of white teepee style tents, real people made fires in oil drums to guard against the biting cold, and queued up for second hand shoes or a warm coat. Children played on wooden planks laid down to bridge the mud, and pregnant women struggled up the hill to register with the Greek authorities. There were volunteers with clipboards and high vis vests, and dogs and cats, and boxes and wheelbarrows, and – Hansel and Gretel like- white stones marked the paths around this most astonishing place – unlike anything I have ever seen before.
All set to find Attika warehouse and do our stint sorting donations we were good to go. We had a map, some verbal instructions, and a belief in basic logic that with hindsight was completely and utterly unfounded. Due to arrive at Attica around 10 am, we finally rolled in around 11.30 a tad stressed and frustrated that
- a) the location on the map was DEFINITELY not the actual location,
- b) the directions given to us by the oh-so-helpful volunteer at Afghan Hill were most DEFINITELY completely inaccurate and,
- c) the description of the warehouse (a green and white building) given to us by a very friendly volunteer was DEFINITELY complete bollocks.
How did we manage to locate the only colour-blind co-ordinating volunteer on the island?
Apparently that’s how it rocks in volunteering land. There is a lot of good stuff and well, some very shoddy stuff. And given that the majority of the people here are completely unfunded volunteers – it comes as no surprise that there are some serious gaps.
The warehouse contains more cardboard boxes that one can shake a stick at. An army of volunteers sorts, labels and ships out. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it and soon I’m sorting ‘Man Up’ from ‘Woman Down’ without even stopping to think. Every possible category is catered for – children’s gloves, baby suits, men’s shoes, even the category of stuff that you really wonder – wtf were they thinking? Tablecloths, Net curtains, Shorts– REALLY?? Maybe there was some logic there, or maybe they just had a load of stuff to get rid of.
At 2 pm we’re off to find out more about ‘Better Days for Moria’, a fantastic organization that is the first port of call for arrivals. They offer free food, accommodation, advice and support for every new arrival. Run by 100% volunteers you have to take your hat off to them!
We were welcomed by Don at the medic tent and introduced to the range of supporters including doctors, translators and first responders. Generous people with a lot to give, in so many ways.
The camp is buzzing with volunteers and refugees all working hard to be positive. It’s a humbling sight where people with oh-so-little, are oh-so-grateful just to be alive and safe. Children do what children do, playing in the mud and burning off energy.
The Greek authorities have set up a registration centre in a local prison. Apparently the crime rate is so low that they have no need for it anyway, and so if you forgive the barbed wire and high fencing, it is a very useful space to ‘hold’ people until they are processed and legally able to move on to Athens.
It seems to be working well, or at least as well as things can work in such situations.
We finished our day on the beach looking out to sea for boats. The Turkish coast is clearly visible from LesVos and it’s easy to see how vulnerable people could be persuaded to get into a rubber dingy and hope for the best.
A line of abandoned life jackets, dingys and rubber rings littered the LesVos beaches.
The future is bright as they say – The future is orange.
We collected rocks ..
and we picked up rubbish ..
We helped make a simple drainage system and we made some new friends.
People are people – the world over.